Following the release of last year's Vexations, I Was Totally Destroying It slowed down a bit—fewer shows, less touring, more full-time jobs. But their record-and-release schedule hasn't altogether slumped. After offering a single in July, they've returned with a stunning seven-song EP, called Blood on the Beach. If I Was Totally Destroying It didn't seem so set on slowly departing, one might be tempted to call it an arrival.
The quintet—which now splits time and members across Chapel Hill, Raleigh and Durham—never seemed like they were searching, even if their full-lengths were sometimes inconsistent. But craftsmanship's steadily increased across a stream of albums and EPs, with the band tightening the screws on a brimming, bracing power-pop sound. They've indulged the sweep of atmospheric British pop, the echo of new wave synths, guitars that glimmer more than crunch and the fetching man/woman vocals of John Booker and Rachel Hirsch. Now it seems they've found some strength in shoegaze.
Though I Was Totally Destroying It can claim several proper rock songs, including the lively "Come Out, Come Out" off 2009's Horror Vacui, they typically focus their attention on simmering balladry or pretty mid-tempo anthems. They turn up the volume here; the keyboards have receded to the background, replaced with grimier, distortion-laden guitars. The louder, pricklier tones offer a more compelling contrast for Hirsch's elegantly soaring vocals, amplifying the tension and feeding into the album's frequent build-release dynamic.
The drama is welcome. Indeed, it's why Blood on the Beach feels more gripping than prior releases. A song like "Sit, Stay" could've been written for those earlier albums—it has a similar emotional/structural shape—but the increased menace ratchets the urgency. "If They Saw You" recalls the grace of earlier tracks, but redemption arrives in an exciting, cresting reprise. The real highlight, "The Devil Is a Lie," balances quirky keyboards, taut guitars, a driving bass line and an inscrutable melody. Hirsch acknowledges her interior wild child, confessing, "I'm not afraid of losing sight, I'm afraid of myself at night."
EPs can often feel monochromatic or unfinished, with a couple of worthy tracks countering the deadweight of filler and tossed-off ideas. IWTDI defy that stereotype, turning in a short statement that not only hangs together but builds on their sound without razing the room. The new volume and frisson complement what they've been doing all along, even if they're doing less of it these days.
Label: Greyday Records
This article appeared in print with the headline "Wax on, off."